YOKOSUKA, Japan –
Chief Legalman Kezzi Colvin of Submarine Group 7, Yokosuka, Japan recalled how federal observance of Juneteenth – which occurred for the first time last year, though it is a longstanding holiday – was announced in June 2021 with little time to plan a fitting commemoration.
Colvin was determined this year’s holiday would be observed with purpose and meaning. She collaborated with Chief Cryptologic Technician (Maintenance) Asia White of Navy Information Operations Command Hawaii to initiate an installation-wide celebration at the Purdy Gym Pavilion onboard Fleet Activities Yokosuka Japan on June 18, 2022.
The event drew a crowd of more than 100 personnel and family members for an afternoon of food, music, performances, vendors, activities, and fellowship.
Colvin shared her story as a child born in the Caribbean who immigrated to the U.S. at a young age, and attended schools named after prominent black figures such as Jackie Robinson, W.E.B. DuBois, and Medgar Evers. Colvin explained her vision for this event was to ensure the holiday was not a day off, but an opportunity to honor the contributions of Black Americans who endured struggles unfathomable to young people today.
Several students from the installation’s Nile C. Kinnick High School showcased their talents as part of the festivities, including a step performance and two spoken-word performances.
Axura, a rising sophomore, recited “Freedom,” an original piece written by one of the high school educators, Latonya Bell. Drawing from historical material and Negro spirituals, Bell’s piece captured the pride of an Underground Railroad conductor – “I can say what most conductors can’t say, I never ran my train off my tracks,” meaning no one died while being led along a harrowing journey towards freedom.
Jackie, a rising junior, recited “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, who delivered her poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. White conveyed Gorman’s prose: “And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn't mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.”
Although Juneteenth honors the end of slavery, Colvin also wanted to leverage the celebration to shine a light on mental health stigmas, which are a barrier for many in the Black community. She invited Kim Milligan, a licensed social worker, to be the event’s guest speaker, and she discussed her experiences working in the mental health profession. Milligan shared perspectives gleaned from a 20-year career as a social worker assisting minorities struggling with mental health.
“Mental health is a real problem in the Black community. We can no longer afford to avoid it because people are hurting and dying,” Milligan said. “If you know someone with depression. Do something. Do not wait or you will be filled with regret.”
The event provided an opportunity to showcase historically African-American fraternities and sororities such as Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, and Nu ETA Sigma. Each organization spoke about the significance of Juneteenth to its group’s founding.
Also on hand at the event were several Black-owned businesses showcasing their products and services.
Juneteenth National Independence Day was signed into law as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. The holiday’s origins are rooted in the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, who proclaimed freedom for enslaved people in Texas.